Meet the man who makes City Hall Plaza shine during Boston Calling

Preston Hoffman and Pulse Lighting turn brutalist into beautiful for a few days each year during Boston Calling.

Preston Hoffman is performing at his third consecutive Boston Calling this weekend, but it’s not likely you’ve ever seen him on stage. Hoffman, along with his brother Paul Hoffman, run Pulse Lighting, the design crew responsible for illuminating City Hall Plaza.

The Hoffmans began Pulse about 10 years ago, initially providing lighting design for touring acts like Widespread Panic and John Legend. They’ve since grown into a more expansive operation, taking on festivals, architectural lighting projects, and installation lighting, and growing their team to include folks like Candace Brightman, who was the lighting director for the Grateful Dead for almost 40 years.


Since last fall, Pulse has conceptualized and designed the lighting at Boston Calling, assigned with the task of making City Hall Plaza look, well, a little more beautiful than usual.

“I try to take the downtown City Hall Plaza, which is a very hard, brutalist environment with the building and all of the hard surfaces,’’ says Preston. “And I try to form that into something that’s more inviting and exciting to look at.’’

Anybody who’s batted an eye at City Hall Plaza knows that may not be the easiest of tasks, but Preston likes the challenge. The traffic, the placement of lights, and the relatively small size of the space all make it a plot that’s a bit difficult for a lighting designer to build on. City Hall itself, however, is a piece with tremendous potential.

“I see it as a surface, not this thing that houses my mayor. … It’s definitely a challenge to transform something that people look at on a daily basis,’’ says Preston. “Then again, when I go and do a walkthrough at the building, I immediately think, ‘this building is meant to be projected on.’ It has so many big flat surfaces and interesting grids and stuff going on, I find it exciting.’’


Light may not be the first thing most showgoers think about at a concert, but to Preston, the appearance of City Hall during the day compared to at night is like two entirely separate buildings. While he’s looking ahead to the spring to develop new installations for the space, he’s still finding the simplest ways to make the center of Boston shine.

“It’s a really difficult space to work in,’’ he says. “So recently, it’s been a matter of taking what I’ve done in the past and fine-tuning it to really fill that area and make it vibrant.’’

2015 Boston calling lineup:

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